Yearling, 2000 (1998)
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
oor Stanley. He's overweight and from a poor family, cursed generations back by a gypsy, so that its members always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They blame their persistent bad luck on a '
'. His dad says '
I learn from failure
', which is just as well, since his inventions all veer away from success.
onsistent with the family fortune, a pair of old smelly sneakers fall out of the sky and hit Stanley. He is convicted of stealing them and sent to Camp Green Lake, a Juvenile Correction Facility in the Texas desert. This is the antithesis of its name, a dry flat wasteland where young offenders are sent in the mistaken belief that if '
you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy
.' The boys dig holes, measured by their spades, seven days a week.
tanley's fellow diggers have names like Squid, X-ray, Armpit and Zero, and they call him Caveman. The boys are at risk from rattlesnake and scorpion bites, but their greatest peril comes from toxic yellow-spotted lizards and from the venomous Warden, a true villainess. Stanley befriends Zero and teaches him to read. He follows him when Zero runs away, and carries him up a mountain. This finally fulfills a promise broken by Stanley's infamous great-great-grandfather.
here is a symmetry to this story, that makes it a tremendously satisfying read. Present actions complete a cycle and provide some compensation for past wrongs, including the historical ones that turned a lovely lakeside town into a wasteland and connected Caveman's family with Green Lake's outlaw schoolteacher, Kissin' Kate Barlow.
tanley Yelnats is an unlikely hero, who prevails through endurance and friendship (along with a taste for onions), and there is much more to Zero than his name suggests. Their story,
, is an excellent read, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1999. I highly recommend it.
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